5 things I learned in January

5 things I learned in January

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

1. How to make a prettier salad.
I’ve loved Jenny Rosenstrach ever since I read Dinner: A Love Story, and make it a point to read her posts for Cup of Jo. She recently offered up advice on how to make your dishes—especially your salads—look a little more enticing. (And can even change the way it tastes!) I love how her tips are practical and can be put into action immediately.

2. Trader Joe’s has a podcast.
I heard about this back in the spring, when The Kitchn called it “the podcast we didn’t know we needed.” Then I forgot all about it, until I saw it on Donna’s year-end favorite podcasts list. (A good place to find good listens.)

The podcast is by Trader Joe’s, about Trader Joe’s: as someone who loves to hear how things happen behind the scenes, I find it fascinating. (But take note: critical reviews say it feels like a giant ad.) Listeners get to sit in on a tasting panel, and come along on a trip to Napa to evaluate potential wine offerings, and get some sympathy for the tragic parking lot situation. (Every Trader Joe’s I’ve ever been to has had a terrible parking lot. This must be a thing.)

Listener response has blown away expectations: TJ’s originally planned five episodes, but they just published #10.

3. If you need help falling asleep …
Borrow this trick from one of my recent reads: Count backwards from 300 by 3s.

4. Style your hair to go to bed.
This is something I’ve never done in my life, until last month when I mixed up my usual style ever-so-slightly and added long layers. The change is barely perceptible during the day, but when I wake up in the morning my hair is … unruly, if we’re being tactful. It’s like each individual layer chooses to go in its own direction. It’s a mess.

I finally figured out that if I put it in a ponytail at night, it’s fine the next morning. (I know, some of you have been doing this your entire lives, but not me.) I use these ties; they’re tight enough to hold but don’t leave a bump.


5. Book news!
I also have my eyes on the readerly horizon to see what’s coming next, and I was thrilled to discover new books from favorite authors are right around the corner: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl (April 2), City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Sky from Kate Atkinson (June 25), The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (July 16). I’m happy to add these titles to the list of the books I can’t wait to read in 2019.

More bookishness: it fills my heart with joy to see I’d Rather Be Reading popping up on “book club” shelves at bookstores around the country.

What did you learn in January? 

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  1. Renae says:

    I have been using the backwards counting thing for my youngest for a long time. I mix it up for him though, it’s not always the same starting point, and not always the same number. It totally helps!!

    • Tiffany L says:

      I used to count in French. Don’t think I counted backwards but I think you have the right idea. It has to be uncommon enough that you have to focus on it and only it to fall asleep!

    • Leslie says:

      I have a similar trick using the alphabet: pick a category, and think of one item for each letter of the alphabet that fits. (Pieces of clothing, animals, birds, food, fruit, etc.) Easily adaptable to be easier or harder as well!

      • Dana Kumerow says:

        I do something similar to that. I chose a letter of the alphabet and try to think of all the words I know that start with that letter. I try to do it alphabetically as well. Works like a charm.

  2. Shannon says:

    I started about two years ago putting my hair up in a high bun every night before I go to bed and it has revolutionized my world. My hair falls beautifully with no tangles right out of the bun. Most days I could get by without doing anything to it if I really wanted to.

  3. Debbie in Alabama says:

    I have learnesd that knowing a Mrs Darcy coming post helps me pop out of bed in the morning> I have been making those fantastic nuts of yours and drinking wine or Tazo tea to keep the chill away while I escape into your great suggestions! You and my prayer journal keep getting me through!DD

  4. Donna H. says:

    I’m so happy that you liked the Trader Joe’s podcast too and that my end of the year favorites list was helpful 🙂 I’m excited for those upcoming books too and this month I learned about a bunch of book adaptations coming out-Little Women, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Native Son, The Woman in the Window, The Sun Is Also A Star, and The Goldfinch just to name a few.

  5. Taylor says:

    1. Tracking my reading inspires me to read more.
    Thanks to book school, I realized that when I track my reading, I see the progress I’m making visually, and it really makes me want to read more so I can see more of that progress. Currently using Book Riot spreadsheet and a book journal to keep track.

    2. Things generally turn out well
    A lot of things make me anxious, especially the few programs I have to run at work. So this month has been an exercise in reminding myself that things generally turn out okay and even if they don’t I probably won’t be worrying about it in four months, so I shouldn’t get myself worked up about it now.

    3. Not to make things perfect
    I struggle a lot with trying to make things perfect, but when I give myself the permission to make mistakes things get a lot better.

    4. Unplugging is a huge relief
    When Apple debuted its screen time function last year, I was ashamed to see my average hours per day on my phone and tablet, so I made it a goal for this entire year to reduce those averages as much as possible. In doing so I’ve spent a lot less time on my phone and my tablet and, at least for me, it’s great. I get less headaches, for one, and I actually do have more time to do things where I “didn’t” have it before.
    Speaking of which…
    5. Making time for things is simultaneously easier and harder than I thought
    It depends on the tasks, and it’s well worth it, but time management is something I’ve yet to master completely. I do have to say, at least in the case of reading, making time to sit down and crack open a book is very rewarding.

    • Valerie S. says:

      Taylor – thank you so much! Today I really needed to be reminded that “Things generally turn out well.” And it’s true.

      • Taylor says:

        You’re welcome! Yeah, it’s one of those things that seem really simple but is actually hard to remember when you’re in the middle of something that’s overwhelming you. So it’s nice to have that reminder every once in a while.

  6. Susan says:

    This January has been a big transition month for me. I have been working from home part-time since the birth of my youngest child 14.5 years ago. This month, I went back full time with 3 days a week in the office and 2 days a week from home. I have an hour+ commute each direction, so the change in routine is significant. I learned it is possible to make dinner and eat at a reasonable hour on the days I am in the office, but I need to plan the menu carefully and do some prep ahead of time, either on the weekend or the day before. I’ve also learned how to leverage my kids’ skills/assistance a little better than I have before. They are willing to help if asked and are trying to be helpful as we move forward with this new normal. I know my youngest isn’t completely happy with the changes, but she is being a trooper! I’m also learning how to work around my other daughter’s lactose intolerance which became severe in the last few months. She was resisting making some changes, but the effects of not doing so have become intolerable, so we’re learning to adjust together.

  7. Jackie says:

    I learned how to weave on a rigid heddle loom (aka a lap loom). I’m just starting my second project, a table runner. I designed it myself and am looking forward to seeing the results.

  8. Emily says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the news about Ruth Reichl’s latest book. I just screamed with excitement!! I love all her books.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I’m kind of curious about Trader Joe’s podcast now!

    In January, I learned how to patch stretch pants, more about the Magdalene laundries (via reading The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander, and then doing a bit of research on my own afterwards), and that less truly is more- I read Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross, and used what I learned there to overhaul my daughter’s room (which made her much happier and better behaved). I also learned that incorporating more fiction in my life truly does make me happier, and that listening to the What Should I Read Next podcast makes me so excited to dive into new books. Not a bad month. 😉

  10. I second the counting backwards trick! Occasionally I’ll count backwards by 4 just to mix things up, but it almost always works like a charm. Seriously one of the best tips I’ve ever heard!

    And thank you thank you for sharing those new releases coming out soon! Eek! I’m super excited for a new Ruth Reichl, and I really need to give Kate Atkinson a try already…

  11. Brenda says:

    I live in California near Sacramento, and I learned that to be a member of the Sacramento Public Library I only needed to be a California resident, not a Sacramento resident. Since the Sac library has a huge catalog of ebooks compared to my local public library, this was a find! Through this I also learned that I like audio books when they are memoirs read by the author.

    • Jessica C says:

      Thank you for this—I now know that as a New York State resident, I’m entitled to a library card at the New York Public Library (and I don’t even have to apply for it in person—score!) I never would’ve thought to check without stumbling upon your comment.

  12. Carolyn says:

    I’ve learned that weekends are hard for me–and to have the whole family create a List of 100 Dreams (a la Laura Vanderkam) is a really good tool to have in my box! On a wide open weekend, I can glimpse our lists and fulfill a ‘mini dream’ on a Saturday afternoon = less bickering/more joy!

  13. Kate Belt says:

    I moved from Portland, OR to Omaha, NE to be near family as I aged. Had there been no TJ here, it would have been a deal breaker. The only Omaha TJ is not too far away, a stand-alone building on the edge of a strip mall, which has plenty of parking! Places for cars in Omaha are huge: big wide streets, big parking lots. Public transport availability is poor though, and in my 2 1/2 years here I’ve seen maybe 7 people riding a bike. Nebraska’s new tourist slogan is “Nebraska – it’s not for everybody.” I call that truth in advertising! But, I digress. I love your podcast and book school. So glad I found you and decided to keep you, Anne!

  14. E C says:

    I count backwards from 300 by 3’s during contractions when I’m in labor to distract me from the pain of childbirth. Works so well the nurse last time said, “You want an epidural? But you’re so calm and handling it so well!”

  15. Suzanne says:

    I discovered in January (thanks to WSIRN) that I like podcasts- or at least, one podcast. I never cared for them before, but apparently I had just never found the right one. Could a conversion to the hated audio books be next? 😉

    • JERRO says:

      I have been focusing on decluttering my house a little at a time. My husband and I are empty nesters and I feel the need to make things more simple. So, along with decluttering, I have learned to put out fresh towels and wash rags in the kitchen everyday. When I set out the fresh ones at night after the kitchen is clean, it’s a great feeling of preparing for the next day.

  16. Pam says:

    I learned that I should have bought a smart phone a long time ago. Messaging with my sibs about my dad’s current hospitalization has been SO HELPFUL. Easy to share images and info, organize help and rides for my mom, coordinate hospital visits, and so on. Best Xmas gift ever!

    I also (re)learned that I have too much stuff. I’ve been a fan of Marie Kondo’s since her first book came out. However, media coverage of her Netflix series galvanized me back into action. Doing it all at once, as she recommends, doesn’t work for me right now. However, in the midst of this most recent family crisis, I’ve tidied a drawer in my bedroom dresser and a shelf in my armoire. Four old pedometers?! Good grief. I’ve been using a FitBit for years!

  17. When I read “style your hair to go to bed”, I immediately thought of the ’40s housewife with her hair in neat curlers 😂 I always sleep with my hair tied back, simply because it drives me nuts if I feel it hanging on the back of my neck or I wake up with a mouthful of it! This month, I was interviewed for a podcast for the very first time, and I learned a lot about how recording/setting up a podcast works – always fun to peek behind the curtains!

  18. I have been thinking about starting to put my hair up at night because mine because a frizzy mess at night. Definitely will be looking into doing so and finding the perfect hair tie! I will also have to check out those books that you shared.

  19. thank you so much for sharing our salad post! also, that counting trick is brilliant. i learned something similar for phobias: if you’re nervous about something (for me, it’s elevators; other people might be scared of flying, etc.), distract your brain from spinning out by listing boys’ names from A to Z (arthur, bobby, charles, dayshawn, etc…) and then girls’ names from A to Z. it works for me, at least 🙂 thank you again xoxo

    • Anne says:

      I adore Jenny’s columns, thanks for publishing great content. And that is a great trick, I’ll save that for my next flight because that makes ME nervous!

  20. Ashley says:

    1) Beating the January blues requires effort and won’t happen on its own. I have to make a conscious effort to get outside anyway, meet up with friends and exercise. Otherwise, my mental health suffers.
    2) Candles are the perfect antidote to dark evenings. I’ve especially loved my peppermint and spruce candles this month.
    3) I’ve been on an organizing spree. The difference is I’m really considering how I’ll keep up my new systems for the long haul — and the only way to do that is to have LESS STUFF in general. My drawers, baskets, etc. need some breathing room. (Now, if anyone has brilliant ideas to store my daughter’s dolls and stuffed animals, I’m all ears. THAT basket is a giant mess.)
    4) I need to have things to look forward to on the weekend. See #1. Otherwise, I get stir-crazy and so do my kids. I am all about winter coziness, but we’re getting too much of a good thing some weeks!
    5) Fresh hair color! Everything can feel and look bleak in January. Having a fresh, brighter hair color is lifting my spirits — and let’s face it, my complexion, too.

  21. Jamie says:

    Years ago, I read about the counting backward by 3’s trick in the newspaper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. I eventually stumbled across a trick that does work for me (usually): listening to audiobooks or old time radio shows. I listened to George Burns and Gracie Allen so often, it’s a wonder the tape didn’t fall apart! Once I moved out, I had to give the tapes back to my brother so I started listening to audiobooks (free through LibriVox recordings (you can find them on youtube), I recommend ANYTHING by Karen Savage!). Since I’ve read the stories before, they don’t keep me from falling asleep but the sound of someone talking interrupts my thinking enough to let my brain shut down and go to sleep instead of spinning in circles for hours! I’ve also found “softly spoken stories” (also on youtube) to help put me to sleep. The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen is adorable.

  22. Kat says:

    Trader Joe’s parking lots are definitely a thing – there are three in my county and every one of them has a parking lot with issues. It’s like it’s one of their requirements for a store space …

    • LoriK says:

      I know someone who spent most of his career working in TJs corporate office. He said that the parking lots are a thing in that TJ’s basically never has a larger parking lot than is required by law in a given location. As I recall the official reason is cost savings, which allows them to build in some locations they otherwise wouldn’t and generally helps keep costs, and therefore prices, down. I also got the impression that it was just a general philosophical dislike of vast expanses of parking lot, a la big box stores.

  23. Lynne says:

    I have learned to be patient. In Novemeber I had an Emergency room visit that cost a lot of money we didn’t have. And this strained our budget. This has meant that somethings have to be skipped in order to meet other bills. One of those is the internet. This is a source of frustration for the whole family. A few of us have our phones, but it leaves everyone else out of the loop that do not have phones. We’ll be ok. It can always be worse.

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